NGARMBOONANANT: What football can do

In the middle of the third quarter, when the crowd suddenly realized we had a chance of winning, I noticed a guy about a couple of rows down from me, standing alone in the midst of Yale students. He was bald and stocky, probably in his early 50s. He’d stood up when the announcer asked the fans to recognize veterans who had served the country. Now on his feet again, he was delivering an extended commentary on the state of the game.

“Five years, too much.” “We can do it people.” “Get that damn passing QB back here!” And, after the questionable pass interference call in the fourth quarter, “That ain’t real!”

He did all of this while fidgeting uncontrollably, glancing purposelessly at the empty air, jabbing his stubby fingers skyward.

If I’d seen him anywhere else in the world, I would’ve labeled him crazy. But football does weird things to people. Here, in the middle of the Yale crowd, he was not that “crazy mumbling dude” over there, but one of us, over here. I don’t even know the name of the man, but I felt a surge of respect for him. By the time The Game ended, I actually felt like I knew him like a long-lost friend.

You know, the beauty of sports is the unity it provides. Unity for the sake of unity, not unity towards something else. After all, this year’s Game was supposed to be a slaughter. The books had already been written, and in official predictions, Harvard won by 31 points. Even many Yalies agreed; just look at the ticket sales.

But we pulled off a feat that not even Nate Silver could have predicted. Touchdown after touchdown, we were so indescribably elated that strangers hugged and kissed in the bleachers. It wasn’t weird, too, because we were one and the same, going through ups and downs together, sharing in the exact same human experience.

Yale, we bonded last Saturday.

It’s such a shame that these experiences are rarely found anymore. No longer do masses of students flock to games; athletics has dropped down everyone’s ladder of importance. From the students’ perspective, the reason for this apathy is clear: watching our teams lose isn’t fun. And the teams themselves? They don’t have enough resources to be competitive.

Our glory days may be behind us, but we must now build a quasi-dignified (at least) sports program. On recruitment alone, we’ve failed. Ivy League regulations allow for 230 recruits, but for the class of 2015, we only admitted 77 percent of that cap. The result is tangible, and frankly, embarrassing: our varsity track team doesn’t even have enough bodies to fill all 17 events at a meet. How can we even begin to be competitive when we treat our varsity teams as little more than glorified club sports?

The overhaul of our athletic program must begin with genuine initiative from the administration. They must acknowledge that sports have value — a value beyond the physical, and a value that needs to be preserved. Athletics give the entire student body a chance to reflect, to experience raw emotions, to get in touch with what it means to be proud, to appreciate a single moment.

I understand concerns about the financial trade-offs between funding athletics and academics. But there are improvements that can be made without sacrificing our academic strength and integrity — starting with a positive shift in attitude. Alumni have heavily criticized President Rick Levin for his comments on athletics. President-elect Salovey can change the tone of his administration by dedicating more attention to our teams, and actually attending the games himself. When small trade-offs must be made, we must remember that the college experience is greater than classes — and Yale’s job is not only to teach us to think, but also how to live as part of a community.

When we lost this past weekend by a sliver, the entire Yale crowd fell silent. The walk out of the stadium felt like hell. It was sickening.

But that’s how it was supposed to be. You only feel sick to your stomach when you know you’ve given it your all, fans and athletes alike. I found grace in the fact that a thousand of my fellow classmates — and, of course, my new veteran friend — felt exactly the same way as I did. In a twisted and wretched way, that solemn walk out was one of the most profoundly beautiful moments I have ever experienced at Yale.

 

Geng Ngarmboonanant is a sophomore in Silliman College. Contact him at wischa.ngarmboonanant@yale.edu .

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